The Duke leaned around so she could be heard. “Keun, look out the window and tell me what you see.”
“I’ll tell you what I don’t see! I don’t see you and JP and Tobin in the parking lot of the Waffle House! No word on Mitchell’s college friends, but Billy just heard from the twins: they’re about to turn onto Sunrise.”
“Then we’re fine, because we’re already on Sunrise,” I said.
“HURRY. The cheerleaders want their Twister! Wait, hold on . . . They’re practicing a pyramid, and they need me to spot them. Spot them. You know what that means? If they fall, they fall into my arms. So I gotta go.” I heard the click of Keun hanging up.
“Floor it,” JP said. I laughed and kept my speed steady. We just needed to maintain our lead.
As far as skiing down a road in an SUV goes, Sunrise Avenue isn’t bad, because unlike most streets in Gracetown, it’s pretty straight. With the tire tracks to guide me, my speed crept up to twenty-five. I figured we’d be downtown in two minutes, and eating Keun’s special off-menu cheesy waffles in ten. I thought about those waffles topped with melted Kraft singles, about how they tasted both savory and sweet, a taste so profound and complex that it can’t even be compared to other tastes, only to emotions. Cheesy waffles, I was thinking, taste like love without the fear of love’s dissolution, and as we came to the 90-degree curve Sunrise Avenue takes before heading straight downtown, I could almost taste them.
I approached the curve exactly as I was taught in drivers’ ed: with my hands at two and ten o’clock, I turned the steering wheel slightly to the right while gently applying the brakes. But Carla did not respond appropriately. She kept going straight.
“Tobin,” the Duke said. And then, “Turn turn Tobin turn.”
I didn’t say anything; I just kept turning the steering wheel to the right and pressing the brake. We began to slow as we approached the snowdrift, but we never gave even the slightest hint of turning. Instead, we barreled into a wall of snow with a noise like a sonic boom.
Damn it. Carla tilting to the left. The windshield a wall of tar-speckled white.
Once we stopped, I spun my head around in time to see chunks of icy snow falling behind the car, beginning to cover us up. I responded to this development with the kind of sophisticated language for which I am famous. “Crap crap crap crap crap crap crap stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid crap.”
The Duke reached over and turned the car off. “Risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning,” she said matter-of-factly, as if we were not stone-cold screwed ten miles from home.
“Out through the back!” she ordered, and the authority in her voice calmed me. JP scrambled into the way-back and then opened the top hatch. He bolted out. The Duke followed, and then me, feetfirst. Having now gathered my thoughts, I was finally able to eloquently articulate my feelings about the matter. “Crap crap crap!” I kicked Carla’s back bumper, as the snow fell wet onto my face. “Stupid idea God stupid God my parents crap crap crap.”
JP put a hand on my shoulder. “It’ll be fine.”
“No,” I said. “It won’t. And you know it won’t.”
“Yes, it will,” JP insisted. “You know what? It will totally be fine, because I’m going to dig the car out of the snow, and someone will come by, and we’ll get help from them—even if it’s the twins. I mean, it’s not like the twins are going to leave us out here to freeze to death.”
The Duke looked me over and smirked. “May I point out,” she said, “how much you will soon regret not listening to my footwear advice back at the house?” I glanced down at the snow falling on my Pumas and winced.
JP remained upbeat. “Yes! This is going to be fine! There’s a reason that God gave me ripped arms and pecs, dude. It’s so that I can dig your car out of the snow. I don’t even need your help. You just chat among yourselves, and let the Hulk work his magic.”
I looked at JP. He weighed perhaps 145 pounds. Squirrels have more impressive musculature. But JP was unfazed. He tied down the earflaps of his hat. He reached into his oh-so-tight snowsuit, pulled out wool gloves, and turned back to the car.
I wasn’t interested in helping, because I knew it was hopeless. Carla was six feet into a snowdrift almost as tall as my head, and we didn’t even have a shovel. I just stood in the road next to the Duke, wiping the wisp of wet hair sticking out under my hat. “Sorry,” I said to the Duke.
“Eh, it’s not your fault. It’s Carla’s fault. You were turning the wheel. Carla just wasn’t listening. I knew I shouldn’t have loved her. She’s like all the others, Tobin: as soon as I confess my love, she abandons me.”
I laughed. “I never abandoned you,” I said, patting her on the back.
“Yeah, well, (a.) I never confessed my love to you, and (b.) I’m not even female to you.”
“We’re so screwed,” I said absentmindedly as I looked back to see JP tunneling his way around the passenger side of the car. He was like a little mole, and surprisingly effective.
“Yeah, I’m already kind of cold,” she said, and then stood next to me, her side against mine. I couldn’t imagine how she could be cold beneath that gigantic ski coat, but it didn’t matter. It reminded me that at least I wasn’t alone out here. I reached up and mussed her hat as I put my arm around her. “Duke, what are we gonna do?”
“This is probably more fun than Waffle House would be, anyway,” she said.
“But the Waffle House has Billy Talos,” I said mockingly. “Now I know why you wanted to go. It had nothing to do with hash browns!”
“Everything has to do with hash browns,” she said. “As the poet wrote: So much depends upon the golden hash browns, glazed with oil, beside the scrambled eggs.”
I didn’t know what she was talking about. I just nodded and stared up the road, wondering when a car would come to rescue us.
“I know it sucks, but it’s certainly the most adventurous Christmas ever.”
“Yeah, which is actually a good reminder of why I am generally opposed to adventure.”
“Nothing wrong with a little risk-taking here and there,” the Duke said, looking up at me.
“I couldn’t disagree more, and this just proves my point. I took a risk, and now Carla is stuck in a snowbank, and I will soon be disowned.”